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Unit Five - Appendix 12

Writing an Historical Essay

The collection of evidence that indicates students have achieved the outcomes of a course is dependent upon their ability to demonstrate their achievement. Opportunities for demonstration of learning are dependent largely upon their ability to speak, write, and represent.

The historical essay is one of many venues for demonstrating the achievement of outcomes. It is not a language arts essay, although language arts skills speak to effective essay writing. The historical essay at the grade 8 level is not intended to be a highly academic research paper, although some of the rigor of research of the historian still apply. The following model is intended as a guide in the writing of a response to a significant but specific question in history. The teacher is also referred to SCO 1.2 and delineations 1.2.1 - 1.2.8 in this curriculum guide.

1. Identify a topic

At this beginning point, the student identifies a general area of interest that he or she thinks is significant. The teacher should help the student to think about whether the topic is defined well enough so that it can be researched, particularly if it is a study of local history.

Examples:
      •   Newfoundland and Labrador’s entry into Confederation
      •   Local house types

2. Develop a specific direction or focus question

To ensure that the essay is coherent and has a focus, the student needs to develop a key question, or thesis statement. The student needs to identify what is worth investigating about this general area. A part of the process is to explore the general area for research with others in the class. From the student’s reflection and discussion with his or her peers, the student may wish to develop a concept web to explore possible specific ideas that may flow from the general area of research. One of the specific directions may be framed into a statement that expresses a position that can be supported by historical sources.

Examples:
      •   Smallwood’s views on Confederation were not the same as those of Cashin.
          (Delineations 4.1.4 and 4.1.5)
      •   Fishers lived in houses that were quite different from the local doctor’s house.
          (Local study for delineations 1.2.1 - 1.2.8; delineation 2.5.1)

3. Locate sources of information

To locate sources of information, the thesis statement should be broken into its key words or parts. These serve as headings for information on the topic. The next step is to identify the sources of information on each key word. The range of information sources will vary with the topic:

reference books photos
periodicals poems
pamphlets songs
brochures stories
newspaper clippings documents
local oral sources CD-ROMS
posters cartoons
letters diaries
autobiographies artifacts
tools/implements films
art tombstones

The student needs to be cautioned, of course, against getting drowned in a sea of materials. Only the resources that are most essential to the thesis statement should be selected.

4. Take notes

Students should read carefully and make sure that the information recorded is relevant to the topic and thesis statement. The sources of information should be reliable and accurate; facts should be distinguished from opinions. The notes should record the source of information and the page numbers in the case of printed text. Notes should be brief as possible - key words and phrases rather than total sentences. If an item is used as a direct quote in the paper, it should be copied as it is in the source and enclosed in quotation marks.

5. Write the working outline

The notes should be organized into a logical order so that they can be used to construct a working outline or framework for the essay. The outline will help the writer to detect any gaps in the information collected out of class. These gaps should be filled in and, if necessary, the outline may be revised.

6. Write the first draft

When students are satisfied that they have enough information, they should begin to write the first draft of their essay. At this time, all they need is the outline, the notes and a dictionary or thesaurus.

The essay will consist of an introductory paragraph in which the topic is introduced and the thesis statement is established. This should be followed by a number of middle paragraphs to focus on the main arguments of the paper and the supporting evidence that has been found to reinforce them. A concluding paragraph should summarize the findings and restate the thesis statement.

Students should also prepare the title page and, if the teacher requires it, footnotes and bibliography.

7. Revise the first draft

The essay should be proofread to improve the content, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions. The student may wish to ask a classmate to read the essay and offer suggestions for improvement. The teacher may also wish to give some feedback.

8. Write the final paper

The student is now in a position to write the final draft. Attention should be given to the suggestions that others made. The paper should be thoroughly checked for any errors.

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